The Uplift of Women's Work
The persuasive discourse on women's racial uplift work and the uplift of women's work in this last section comes out of the Hampton Negro Conferences of 1898 and 1899 and out of a Hampton publication. The Hampton, Virginia, conferences, first held in 1897, were presided over by Hollis Burke Frissell, principal of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute from 1893 to 1917. Victoria Earle Matthews's address, "Some of the Dangers Confronting Southern Girls in the North," was delivered at the second summer conference, July 20-22, 1898. "Colored Women as Wage-Earners," an article by Anna J. Cooper, appeared in the August 1899 Southern Workman and Hampton School Record. Lucy Lane's speech, "The Burden of the Educated Colored Woman," was delivered at the Third Hampton Summer Conference in July 1899.
Matthews, a year before she delivered her speech on the exploitation of Southern girls, had already established the White Rose Mission for young women who had traveled to New York City looking for work and a respectable place to stay. The mission also served as a gathering place for women in the community. Titles of other conference papers during that session, "Some Observations of Farms and Farming in the South," "The Importance of Sewing in Public Schools," and "How to Hold Young People in the Church," indicate an emphasis upon rural and domestic issues. Matthews's speech to the Woman's Conference, however, followed the young women out of the homes and out of the South into the big cities in the North. Matthews painted a bleak picture of young women's sexual exploitation, describing the recruitment tactics in the South, the high wages offered initially in the North, and the incurred indebtedness that could never be repaid. She made the point that these atrocities occurred not only in New York but also in other cities including Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago. In 1905, Matthews established the White Rose Traveler's Aid Society, with agents posted in Norfolk, Virginia, near Hampton, and in New York, to watch for the arrival of potential victims. Matthews recognized that it was not worth the time and money to ferret out the culprits. It was better, she claimed, to enlighten the women to the dangers that awaited them and to teach them how to search for jobs intelligently.